Deepchild: Burning in Neukölln
As rays of light teased through the clouds of a typically overcast Berlin summer afternoon, we caught up with Australian ex-pat Berliner Rick Bull, better known as Deepchild. With his upcoming album for Thoughtless on the horizon – his first full-length in nearly five years – we were excited to pick his brains about the process that went into this amazing piece of work, and to find out, in general, what makes the man tick…
Let’s start at the beginning: what got you started making music?
I think it was a desire to make sense of my life, to encode experience, to discover ghosts in machines, the hidden stories of technology, to rediscover my body and viscera. To find silence in the best way I could, with the tools (musical instruments, computers etc.) at my disposal. I guess I started making music as an exercise in learning to listen, which feels important to me in a culture which tends to prefer speed and distraction.
What are the most essential elements of your music making process?
Patience, repetition, practice, failure, coffee, tea, beer, scotch. And theft – lots and lots of theft. The rest seems to be reducible to the mechanics of technology, and factors which are incidental. I’ll certainly say that often my most successful music-making experiences are in unlikely arenas – jet lagged as hell in transit between international destinations, or on trains, or during sound-check before a gig. I find that 70% of the process is just patience, ‘showing up’, failing and then learning to turn off the computer. About 10% is learning to upset or problematize your process by building-in intentional elements of error, chaos, counter-intuitive ideas. And the last 20% or so is learning to realize that the art is best served when you, as a composer can step away, stop, forget you are a so-called ‘artist’.
Can you describe your essential daily ritual?
Wake up, always later than hoped for, leave the house, study German and read for a couple of hours, drink coffee and then more coffee, return-home, work for 2-3 hours. Go to yoga. Come back home as the sun-sets, glad to have forgotten about music for a minute. Get back on the laptop, render more beats, ideas for a few hours. Maybe eat something. Get into bed. Bring laptop (then regret it), make charts, interviews, listen to music, watch The Daily Show, fall asleep with laptop on chest.
What is your favorite beverage?
Easy: Tripel Karmeliet – a Trappist Belgian beer.
You’ve toured the world, yet some of your favorite places to play remain here in Berlin – where are they and what can you tell us about them?
The legendary Berghain is fun, epic, and eye-opening; Kater Holzig is raucous, intimate, relaxed, low-brow fun – a playground for adults.
What’s your craziest experience at a show?
So very many. To name a few: being shown nude iPhone photos whilst DJing; being given money (a tip?) during a set by an enthusiastic fan; observing multiple-partner sex-orgies on the dancefloor… ugh… lord. Many blur into smeared memories.
You’re often posting online about Eastern spiritual traditions – can you describe the impact this influence has on your life and music? Any books or teachings of particular impact?
Practicing yoga and meditation have been pretty fundamental survival strategies as an artist and slightly overwrought human being. I feel most human when I find a sense of silence, of ‘self-forgetting’, of slowness, simplicity, intentionality and mindfulness. A great deal of Western post-industrial capitalism and the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic” have left a legacy of perpetual anxiety, unrest, self-obsession. Buddhist practice is just a welcome antidote for me – the notion of ‘abundant enough-ness’, which I feel I start to find glimpses of through practices like yoga, meditation, deep listening, and basic rest. I don’t believe in ‘arrival’, I don’t believe in ‘The Secret’, I don’t believe that philosophies which perpetuate discontent or ‘transcendence’ are helpful for art or community or being ‘present’, thankful, joyful. I’m fascinated by the creative animist re-appropriation and creative-imagination of Tibetan Buddhism. I love the stark silence of Zen and the so-called ‘crazy wisdom’ traditions, and the warmth of the Thai Theravada tradition. I also love Dr. Seuss and Kafka and Basho and Rumi.
What does your upcoming album, Neukölln Burning, mean to you?
Personally, a reminder that making music is a blessing which is sometimes forged in joy, frequently in suffering, and always something which I’m thankful to be permitted to do. The album is, I hope, something which those I love will feel a part of – in many ways, a collective statement. Nothing is really ever ‘made’ in a void – and although I’ve been ‘at the controls’ of making the work, I’ve come to hear it more and more as a community offering. So, I hope that it can be enjoyed, and be something which benefits others (or at least doesn’t waste their time). Its been an honor – a more confronting and frightening honor (during a rather tumultuous year) to produce, but in an odd way synchronistic. It’s also a love-song to Neukölln, to my friends, my family, and the kindness of strangers.
The album was created under some amount of pressure as you attempted to wean yourself from antidepressants last winter – can you describe that experience and the role creating this album played in it?
In retrospect, attempting to de-medicate in the fashion which I did (rapidly after years of being on a prescription) was not the wisest move. Fortunately, I’m well adept at making unwise decisions on misguided assumptions. Suffice to say that it was a sobering reminder of my own ego, stubbornness and fragility, as well as reliance on so many wonderful friends. I guess that the experience made me feel surprised by a great deal of demons, struggles and fears which I imagined I could overcome by sheer force of will, in extreme isolation. It was also a reminder of the preciousness and precarious nature of mental health. Hard lessons to learn when you are as stubborn as I can be. On the flip-side, it made me realize that the human body is also surprisingly robust – but that I have further to go when it comes to learning to listen to mine. In the midst of this turmoil, the album-writing process was difficult but worthwhile. I didn’t set out to make a ‘dark’ or ‘tortured’ album, but I think that it is one which starts to name some of the darkness in a way which hopefully also betrays a sense of gratitude. In its way, its very much a meditation on feeling fortunate to be alive, here, now, in the midst of the joys and struggles of this odd incarnation. An inspiring quote I found after completing the album comes from Siddhartha Gautama: ”Everything is burning… with what is the burning? I say it is burning with the fire of passion, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of stupidity; it is burning because of birth, aging, dying, because of grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair.”
What are some up and coming artists and labels that excite you nowadays, and why? What qualities do you look for in the music you spin?
Labels? ECM Records, Hotfush, Sunklow, 50 Weapons, Rush Hour Records, 100% Silk, Tri-Angle, R&S Records, Hyperdub, Tokyo Dawn, Ostgut Ton, Affin, Thoughtless Music, Echospace.
Artists? Lando Kal, Skudge, Doc Daneeka, Cosmin TRG, Boddika and Joy O, Disclosure, Maribou State, Holy Other, Burial, Fourtet, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Keith Jarrett.
I’m always a bit behind the 8-ball when it comes to really new artists, but these are a few who continue to captivate me. I’m interested in music which feels organic, hand-made, imperfectly complete.
What do you love most about living in Berlin – Neukölln in particular?
Cheap beer, cheap high-quality food and produce, simple living, cobblestone streets, Arabic voices, quiet Sundays, drinks on the riverbank, fantastic parks and public spaces, four hours of daylight in winter, change, transience, unpredictability, great affordable healthcare and transport, a willing embrace of change and of being changed. Kindness.
What’s next for you?
A few days off in Dresden and many cups of tea. More interviews, more sleep, more beer, more practice, more change.